GRAPHICS: Fast forward to the future

Innovations in graphics technology continue apace and clients can't afford not to keep up. Emma Reynolds reveals what's hot

Whether exhibiting at a show or organising a live event, the key is to grab people's attention. One way is through the use of up-to-the-minute graphics.

Lucy Davies, senior graphic designer at stand design company RTH Group, says clients are keen to find innovative ways to make the most of their graphics. "Clients realise that graphic application can be more dynamic and expressive. We want to try new things and clients are catching on to that," she notes.

RTH recently won a contract to develop the exhibition programme for pharmaceutical outfit Eli Lilly. "We will have to create graphics that can be altered quickly, as the company's messaging changes frequently," says Davies. "So while delivering the wow factor, it will have to be a practical system."

Attractive selling point

Stylographics sales and marketing director Barry Davies argues that with clients being increasingly budget-conscious, the minimal cost of graphics that can be reused over several shows is an attractive selling point.

He adds that the market is more competitive today because clients are aware of the products on offer and invite companies to pitch for business.

"Clients with smaller stands are led by loyalty and that's what we build our business on - providing graphics for banner stands, pop-up units and panels. People come back to us for quality and reliability," he remarks.

Stylographics joined forces with Italian outfit Simbadilino and UK importer Adhoc Graphics to create the Butterfly Dyejet system, which produces high quality fabric graphics that can be washed, ironed and reused. It was used on the Environmental Systems Research Institute stand at GIS 2002 at Earls Court, which comprised large sails and fabric with graphics of the world on it. "We had to have something different to throw at the market," recalls Davies.

Another graphics product new to the market is DigiMark, which can be used on floor surfaces including grass and tarmac. Phillipa Pacey, director of the manufacturer Digital Markings, says: "The material is non-slip so there is no safety hazard. It has an adhesive base, mesh fabric and layers of our magic formula. Once dry we add a layer of grit and the image is encapsulated so it doesn't rip."

This investment in new technology is opening up opportunities for graphics companies working on live events. Clip Display graphics manager Gordon Higgins says: "New technology allows printing on to virtually any material - glass, fabrics, plastics and laminates. We see numerous graphic applications in our everyday lives such as event backdrops, music awards, and television set stages."

Graphics Express is increasingly being asked to print images on to PVC or canvas, which is then stretched over frames to produce stand and event backdrops. Managing director Ginetta George says: "Previously, contractors were building walls that had to have a perfect finish before the graphics could be applied. Now, using giant prints around the frames produces cost-effective and dramatic graphics. And size isn't an issue either, as the frame can be up to five metres in height or width."

Graphics Express worked with design firms MEMS International and Bluw to provide graphics for Schwarzkopf, Goldwell and Clynol at Salon International at Excel from 26-28 October 2002. George says: "Using big frames and vibrant colours the clients made a big impact and drew the crowds to the stand."

Absorbing technology

Evolutions Television managing director Mark Wallace has used Service Graphics' Scanachrome division to provide graphics at live events. This involves blowing up a high-resolution image and printing it on to a special matte, in full colour. One of the system's benefits is that the material absorbs light rather than reflect it. "What you get is a huge piece of material that can stretch across the front of a building," says Wallace. He used the system to produce backdrop graphics for the Science Matters event at the Royal Institute last year, which was attended by Prime Minister Tony Blair.

"Scanachrome is a cost-effective and quick way to create graphics with impact, and it has become more accessible over the past eight months as the price has come down," says Wallace.

He also argues that graphics can help theme an event. "It can help with corporate events where companies want to get into the staff or client psyche. You can't use exhibition-oriented graphics in a live environment," he states.

This was the challenge for The Ultimate Event Company when it organised a product launch for Siemens Mobile at trendy new venue CC Club in London's West End in January. The organiser hired Laser Graphics (LG) to come up with effective and original graphics. LG sales and projects manager Richard Hawkins says: "We used a Kodak carousel, which allowed us to project 2sqm slide images on to the wall. We hung the projectors from the roof and projected the client's logo on a loop."

LG used four projectors, each showing a different image at any time. The company also projected moving graphic images on to the venue walls with a laser projector. Hawkins says: "A static image won't change in appearance so it doesn't attract interest. With laser projectors the graphics can be more effective."

Sophisticated and reliable

Terry Vermigle, managing director at design and production company First Image, which designed and produced the presentation graphics at the Pci:Live-organised Saab event in Stockholm last summer (Event, September), agrees that slide projection has been overshadowed by digital developments. "It's more sophisticated and reliable," he argues. "Standards have risen over the past 15 years and clients recognise that they need more sophisticated graphics - ones with high production values that can incorporate video projection. Clients will outsource to specialists rather than do it themselves these days."

Despite the technological innovations, slide projection remains popular, as E/T/C UK proved at last year's Golden Jubilee celebrations at Buckingham Palace. E/T/C managing director Ross Ashton says: "We had to source and supply the graphic images to accompany a musical tribute to the sounds of the past five decades, such as sunflowers for the 1960s. When you come to an event like that you want to see something different. It's all down to the imagination of the producer and how they think they can benefit from this technology."

E/T/C also supplies graphics for corporate parties and concerts. Ashton says: "We can do scrolling and rotating to create animated images for events. The effect is like a high-tech magic lantern." Production outfit The PMi Partnership also asked E/T/C and live video firm XL Video to create a 76-metre graphic backdrop at Haymarket Exhibitions' Autosport International event, which took place at the NEC from 9-12 January.

The Autosport Live feature area consisted of five 60-minute auto stunt shows on each of the four days. E/T/C worked with PMi to produce the moving graphic artwork for the arena background. Three projectors were used for the display, which included mountains, snow scenes and firework images.

The contribution that good graphics can make to a stand or live event cannot be under-estimated, and technical innovation will only serve to improve methods of application. While this is good news for graphics agencies, some argue that a boost in the economy is necessary for them to fully reap the rewards. As Stylographics' Davies says: "It's going to be a bumpy ride, and anyone who suggests it's not are fools to themselves."

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